After I graduated highschool, I immediately entered University. I chose Early Modern European History as my major, and Political Science as my minor. I soon dropped Political Science, when it became clear to me that my personal philosophies often clashed with mainstream politics. I took Philosophy and Religion and Culture as a double minor instead.

I was lucky enough to have formed friendships with several very intelligent Philosophy majors, who challenged me on several levels. They were much better read than myself, although for my school work I quickly caught up since all my classes required of me to read classical philosophy and literature. Philosophy required intimate knowledge of the tenets. History required of me to place the tenets within the current political, religious and cultural context.

On another level, all of these Philosophy majors were Atheists. They did not, could not, allow me to use religious frameworks around arguments because they are not based around reason, but around faith and personal experience. I was forced to acknowledge that the religious arguments I had been acquiring since childhood were not built upon solid ground, and were in no way unique. I saw how the religious myths I had grown up with were  similar threads of a great web of religious ideas that had grown up all over the globe, but I didn’t know why. My God had the same attributes of other gods. My morality tales were respun from previous morality tales. My Religion and Culture studies confirmed this for me. I read, in cultural myth after cultural myth, the same creation and flood stories, mores and ethics, justifications and rituals. Perhaps this meant that all religions held truths? I had no concept back then of religion as a natural byproduct of human evolution.

At this point, I think the best description of my religious beliefs were Agnostic. I simply just did not know anymore. I didn’t really understand what Agnosticism meant, and figured that the odds were 50/50 for or against God. However, I meant the Christian God of the Bible. I still had not branched out beyond the deity I knew. I didn’t understand that I should have been questioning Religion itself, not the specific God I had been worshiping since I was a child. So, I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to be able to really appreciate the finer nuances of philosophy at this stage and it’s no wonder I didn’t get very far, or come to any personal conclusions. It didn’t rid of me the burning desire to find richness and meaning in life within the confines of a spiritual framework. The idea of abandoning religion itself didn’t occur to me, so I searched around within the religions to find one that better defined my beliefs. I read about every religion and spiritual philosophy I was even briefly introduced to. I wanted to know everything about every religion. Like the fabled Russian medieval princes, I went shopping for the “right religion”.  Unlike the Russian princes, I didn’t find one. All I did was learn more about them, and saw in all of them something that spoke to me. Rather than understanding that it’s natural for humanity to accrue similar stories because we are hardwired to do so, I just became confused and drawn to them all.

I graduated University three years later, more educated about History, Philosophy, Religion and Culture. Personally, I was still searching for the spiritual side of life I had  read about in books and had formerly known within Christianity.

I also graduated with $25,000 worth of bank loans, that had funded this education. I put my name out on the internet, seeking an international teaching position. A recruiter from South Korea called and weeks later, I was on a plane to Seoul.

I had already spent four months backpacking and camping around Europe (Spain, France and Czech) so I knew travel was something I really wanted to do. I acclimatize to other cultures well, and settled into Korea right away. I immediately began to study more about Buddhism, and even attended Buddhist ceremonies and learned chants and rituals. I traveled the entire country, visiting shrines, temples and holy sites. I had a University gig, which meant 3 months of work followed by 3 weeks of vacation time, for each trimester. I traveled to other Buddhist countries  –  Japan, China, Thailand, Cambodia. I studied their branches of Buddhism. I studied the walls of the great temple of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and the Palace in Bangkok. Carvings and paintings of Hindu gods infused with Buddhist mythology. It was a side of Buddhism I had not learned about in school, which tended to focus on traditional Buddhism of the Near East. I learned about Confucian doctrine and Zen principles. I traveled to the Philippines, and learned more about colonialism and the impact of missionary work on a traditional culture. I was learning as much in the world, from the world, from it’s living history, as I had learned theoretically from books.

So it’s natural I think  that I began to appreciate Buddhist philosophy. And not just because I was young and impressionable. Buddhism itself is incredibly complex and beautiful. It is embracing, and positive  despite it’s reputation as being negative in it’s portrayal of life and death. I think it’s very misunderstood, especially if you don’t venture beyond the “All life is suffering” principle. Buddhism is accused of being everything from Pantheist, to Atheistic, to Pagan, to Monotheistic with the confusion surrounding the reverence of the Buddha. I appreciated the emphasis on the wholeness of life, the acceptance of the cycle of life and death, and (since I had already been a vegetarian for 4 years before moving to South Korea) the way animals and all life forms were treated with respect rather than dominated over. A Christian often finds this concept very difficult to understand, just as the concept of a heliocentric universe was difficult to accept. It’s such a completely different way of viewing one’s place in the world, and too humbling.

I was not a Buddhist, to be clear. I just found much to admire, and found I already had embraced some of it’s principles in my own life. Just as equally, I could have claimed Paganism or Panentheism as dominating influences in my life.

As I write this now, I wonder if my life really has been so concerned with spirituality and religion as much as it seems. And I realize that, yes it has. At every stage of my life, I’ve been concerned with these matters and never stopped learning and searching. I wonder why that is, and I think it was my early introduction to Christianity and the huge role it played, which is pretty ironic. I think if I had grown up without religion, I would not be nearly so interested in it or how it influences people, much less myself.

I had arrived in Korea in the summer of 1999.  In 2002, I met and married a Greek American engineer, and that changed the course of my life. When he was transferred out of South Korea in 2004,  I went with him and closed a chapter in my life, in more ways than one. I was no longer on a single journey through life. But after 5 years in Asia, my spiritual journey was not over. We left Korea for Croatia, and I was thrown back into the Christian world hard and fast. But as the saying goes, you take your mind with you wherever you go. So this time, my participation was very different.

I get asked a lot about my (lack of) religious beliefs, because immediately after telling people I’m Atheist I note that I used to be a former Christian Apologist.

If you don’t know what an Apologist is, I suggest you read through this link. Here is a list of 100 Christian Apologists (former and present) and I’ve read through the work of a lot of them. More on Apologetics later.

I understand the Christian point of view, and I know that one of the first responses I will get from a Christian is that I was “never a Christian then to begin with”. So first, let me establish some street cred.

I was born into a Christian family. My mother is a very devout Christian, and my father professes (despite his reluctance to discuss religion or his feelings in general) to believe in the God as the Bible portrays Him. From when I was a small child, we attended weekly services at a Free Methodist church. Before church, I attended Sunday School. During the service, all us children were sent out to attend Children’s Worship Service. After church, we got together in the church basement for more worship and praise. All holidays were spent at church. Sunrise Services and Pancake Breakfasts for Easter. We participated in Lent, for 40 days, each year. Evening candlelit service for Christmas. And each summer, our church held a Marketplace, which was a fun revival type event where we re-created the time period Jesus lived in, replete with Roman soldiers (my father had fun carrying his tinfoil sword), crafts for sale, and games and activities that we imagined (or the Bible hinted) that might have taken place at that period in history.

I attributed everything good in my life to God. We didn’t have much when I was a child. We were poor, and lived simply. I specifically remember one incident that stands out. I had a new pair of shoes for school, and that was a big deal in our humble home. They were purple (my favourite colour) and had zippers on each side. One zipper got stuck and I was in tears that I had ruined my new shoes. My mother always said, ask God and you will receive. So I prayed to God to unstuck that zipper. And lo and beyond, the teeth came together and my shoes were “healed”. I gave thanks to God for my blessing.

My father was on the board for our church, and my mother was an active member as well. She was a Prayer Chain participant, and even took a two week missions trip to Jamaica when I was in middle school. I don’t remember her absence much, just that she left a smoker and came back smoke free and completely rejoicing in the Lord. My mother is a true believer, and beautiful soul. She epitomizes everything I think a Christian *should* be, since it’s pretty clear the religion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. She speaks to God regularly, prays daily, takes part in soup kitchens and charity drives, attends Bible study regularly, and donates much time and money to her present church. I think she’d make a great Buddhist.

She also has what is known in the Christian world as “gifts of the spirit”. These are special gifts, given to certain believers, from the Holy Spirit. My mother has had visions since she was a child, and has seen events before they happen. After she saw the death of Matthew Shepherd the night before he was murdered, she prayed to God to take the visions away. She had one more vision after that, of a local child who was killed by a train. She prayed again, and stopped receiving visions. She also firmly believes she healed me as a child. My mother is a great caregiver. She raised her 4 siblings and is widely known as a lover of animals, taking in stray dogs, cats, horses, goats, all manner of animals into what my father calls her “menagerie”. She is, not surprisingly, a nurse. When I was very young, I suffered constantly from ear infections and tonsilitis. One year was particularly bad and I was very sick in bed. Something told my mother to go upstairs, lay her hands on me, and pray. She did and returned back downstairs. Something told her to do it again. So she did and one hour later my fever had broken, my infection was gone and I was fully recovered. Our doctor was pleasantly baffled. To this day, I still have my tonsils and have never gotten a throat infection again.

Back at church, each week, I attended AWANAs. If you are not familiar with this group, it stands for “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed” and it’s a study group aimed at young children and teens. Emphasis is on Bible study and evangelism. When I was a teenager, I became a leader and taught AWANA classes for younger children.

I also attended our church Youth Group weekly. Our pastor at that time was fun, hip and young, and took us on field trips. He made “Christian living” much more fun than I believe most other youth groups make it seem. We went to Petra concerts, put on plays, played spooky games throughout the four stories of our huge church, played instruments, and once took a trip down to Huntington, Indiana to check out the Bible College, which I was actually considering applying to after high school. That trip now is memorable only because two of the girls in our group got caught shoplifting when we stopped at a local mall, and having to hear our Pastor’s name called over the loudspeaker to pick up the offenders was quite a shock. The drive home was…quiet.

From middle school to high school, I also attended Church Camp for two weeks each summer. It was boring, to tell you the truth. Focus was on Bible study much more than fun and games, and I hated it. The tuck shop was the highlight of the day. I did meet some some fun friends who shared my budding girlhood passion for New Kids on the Block and we plastered our cabin with teen magazine posters, only to be told to take them down. I kept one poster of Joe under my pillow though, but it too went missing a week into our stay. The most memorable event from the four summers I attended camp was the final year I was there. Three of the older boys (who really were too old to be in Church Camp, so I kind of don’t blame them)  got caught smoking dope behind the boys latrine, and were immediately sent home. The next year, one of those boys killed another driver on the road, in a drunk driving accident. Perhaps Church Camp after all would have been better than leaving him at home.

Of course, this goes to show that you can participate in all the church and religious events you are forced to by your parents, and still not care one way or the other about religion. But I did. I cared. When I was 13, I made the decision to be baptized. It was a big deal in our church, and you had to take classes for weeks before the event, to make sure you understood what you were doing, and what baptism meant. Our church emphasized that baptism was a commitment, a statement between you and God that you were pledging your life to being a Christian. It does not “save your soul”. It’s a pledge of good faith that you will work towards emulating Christ. I stood before the entire church congregation, swore my oath to God, and believed with all my heart that Jesus was my Lord and Saviour, sent to die on the Cross for my sins. I wanted to live a Christian life, and make myself worthy of His sacrifice.

Then something happened, as it does to all teenagers. I started to question life, myself, and my place in the world. I wanted to “find myself” and it had nothing to do with religious beliefs for the first time. My entire childhood had centered around the church and I was firm in my love for God and Jesus. But now I begin to think about my own personal philosophy on life. In high school classes, we started to branch out and learn about history and the greater world in a deeper way. I have always been an eager Honour Roll student, and soaked up history, which would later become my major in university. I took a Politics class which introduced me to a social awareness that made me realize how naive I was.

When you grow up in a small Canadian town, there isn’t much to do. I was our school’s Environment Club coordinator, and worked 2 jobs while keeping my Honour Roll status. I found time to win an essay contest and play on our school’s track and field and badminton teams. But time was still long, and we hung out on the beach with little to do but drink beer and whiskey, smoke pot, and listen to the Doors. Jim Morrison was a poet and philosopher and I hung on his every word, reading all the books he had read, and thus my introduction to philosophy, particularly Nietzsche. And here planted the seeds of doubt and discontent, because you can’t be a clever girl and read philosophy and history, and still believe the world is only 6.000 years old and that every word written in the Bible is true.

If you are a Christian, in order to take one sentence in the Bible as truth, you have to take all of it. It’s kind of a package deal, if you truly believe it’s “God breathed”. Moderate Christians today, who (buffet style) pick and choose the “good parts” and overlook the silly ones, try unconvincingly to prove that all Biblical and modern concepts are compatible. I can’t believe in their heart of hearts they truly believe it, and it seems sad to me, their desperation to cling to their beliefs. I was once there, so I know the mental gymnastics it takes, and it’s emotionally exhausting. At this early point though, nothing made sense to me and I was too new to connecting metaphysical dots to put a cohesive personal philosophy together. All I knew was, things were not adding up and it was very discomfiting. I also had the slightly arrogant and alarming feeling that I was a little too intelligent not to question when so many great thinkers felt the need to. I owed it to myself to put away faith and focus on reason.

So one night, out on my second floor bedroom balcony staring at the moon, I thought it as good a time as any to have a heart to heart with God.  This is a painful memory for me, and I wrote it in my (now sadly lost) journal immediately afterwards, with the guitar strings of CCR in the background as mood music, because I knew it was a seminal moment. Basically, I told God that I was going away for a while. But that I’d probably be back because my faith was strong enough to find the light again. I felt a lot of guilt. I felt even guiltier because I didn’t get an answer back, and I thought that right then and there, God left me. And He did. For years.

I did find my way back though. But it took ten years and travels across two continents.

There is a common perception that a mother’s method of feeding her child is her “choice” and that the mother who “chooses” not to breastfeed is doing so of her own volition, based on her own “research”. She is doing, she believes, what is “best for her family”.

I have no doubt these mothers believe they are opting not to breastfeed based on their own personal choice. I have no doubt these mothers believe they are not being ignorant, as they have done their own “research” into their feeding options. I have no doubt these mothers have no intention of causing their children harm, and feel confident that their infant will thrive and grow on artificial milk.

I do have my doubts about the claim that using artificial milk is their “choice.”

As in Choice Feminism, mothers who extol the virtues of having a choice in feeding methods have been socially conditioned to see these options as being a good thing and progressive, that having more than one option is actually a broadening of horizons. As the woman who “chooses” to lock herself into a traditional female role doesn’t realize the intensive and omnipresent LACK of choices that limits her, the woman who “chooses” formula when it’s not medically necessary doesn’t realize the forces that influence her decision and undermine her faith in her own body. Let’s explore these two issues, because they are intimately entwined.

It’s no secret that women and women’s bodies have been revered, reviled, controlled and stifled for thousands of years. It’s an historical fact that is indisputable. However, women have been tricked and encouraged into thinking that these limitations are for their betterment, and are in fact the hallmark of a progressive society.

To use just one example, women who are not allowed to show their faces in public are told that this restriction is for their “protection”, for their spiritual and moral purity, to prevent their souls from being corrupted, their family’s reputation from being spoiled, and their persons from being violated by the gaze and lusts of other men. In this way, the control that men wield over their bodies becomes something the women want to do, in order to preserve this purity and protection. When they are faced with the “choice” of covering or not covering their faces, many if not most “choose” the veils, having been saturated with the propaganda that this option is proper and safest. The cultural influences are insurmountable, especially when reinforced by sacred religious treaties that support them.

Likewise, when women “choose” to opt out of the workforce in order to stay home and care for ageing parents or children, their “choice” has been culturally conditioned. To take myself as the example here, I know that my “choice” to stay home is influenced by social and historical volitions. I know that should I go back to work, the onus of finding and paying for childcare is on my head. I know that cost of childcare will be calculated and detracted from my salary, instead of the combined net salary that my husband and I would bring home together. I know that continuing to breastfeed will be limited and often impossible, as it is not protected by law in the workforce, and I may not be allotted time and space for pumping at work. I know that I will be working not just one job, but two, since I will be working the “second shift” of cooking, cleaning and childcare when I return home from the office. I know that, while being “just” a stay at home wife and mother is not valued in my society, neither is being the mother who does not have the financial need to procure income for her family and leaves her child and home in the care of others. This juxtaposition means that, whether I choose to stay home or to work, neither of my choices are extolled or admired, since my primary role now that I am a mother is to care for my household and children.

The patriarchal society I live in does not demand that my spouse take a leading role in childcare or household maintenance. If my husband stays late at the office and cannot be home to cook or clean, he is not punished. If I have to stay late after work, my absence from the home is seen as neglectful, and selfish. I’m “choosing work over family” and damaging my children in some undefined psychological way.

However this same culture that expects the mother to stay home and care for her children does not provide her with the personal satisfaction of doing so. For many women, the first question they are asked is “Do you work?” even if it’s known they are mothers with small children. To say, “I’m a stay at home mother” is tantamount to saying “I watch soaps all day while I paint my nails” because childcare is not valued because it’s not paid work. “Work” means going outside the home and earning money. So while it’s expected to be the primary caregiver at home, it’s not respected and it’s no wonder that many women seek work outside the home to gain that power and respect. For the woman who has to seek employment in order for her family to survive economically, working is seen as a necessary evil.

So, how is this scenario the same as “choosing” to use artificial milk instead of breastfeeding?

The same sort of “choice” applies, in a very similar way. Women are joyously informed they have options, but the equality of these options is weighted on a false scale. Just as I could blindly believe that it’s my “choice” to stay home and opt out of the workforce, women can “choose” not to breastfeed and believe that it’s a personal decision not influenced by anything other than their own preference. Just as there are walls around my returning to work, there are walls around the information that women have access to when it comes to feeding methods.

Mothers are woefully misinformed about breastfeeding and the superiority of breast milk, just as they are woefully misinformed about the consequences of opting out of the workforce. It’s not commonly discussed that when a woman stays out of the workforce, she deprives herself of economic independence and isn’t paying into a social security fund for the future. It’s not commonly discussed that when a woman uses artificial milk, she deprives her child of the immunological aspects of breast milk and isn’t paying into her child’s future health condition.

The media and medical community, by making infant formula ubiquitous, mislead parents into thinking that formula is a viable and equal alternative to breast milk. By not restricting infant formula to those who truly cannot breastfeed their children, they mislead parents into thinking that it’s an option for any infant. By seeing infant formula everywhere, parents are saturated with the message that it’s not only acceptable, but preferable. Very few images of breastfeeding are seen in public, making it seem that it’s not the normal way to feed a child.

From neonatal clinics to parenting magazines, infant formula is advertized and extolled as “a healthy choice for babies” and “similar to breast milk”, false claims which violate an international code for marketing of infant formula established decades ago. Yet parents absorb this claim, and believe it because of where they see it – medical offices and in publication. Most people trust doctors to know what is good for children. And they are willing to believe parenting magazines because they often have no experience with babies and children, and don’t have informed persons such as their own parents around for informative advice. Even if they do, there is suspicion that such advice is based on “old wives tales” and that new research and modern ideas have rendered the “old way” of parenting backwards (which can be the case in some circumstances, such as the necessity of circumcision for “cleanliness”) and misinformed.

A mother so saturated in the normalcy of bottle feeding, and being led to mistrust her body’s ability to breastfeed, looks to artificial milk as a viable option. She has been given the message that formula is just as good, sometimes better, than human milk and is an easier and cleaner way to feed her child. So, she perceives that she has a choice. The problem is that she has only been given clear information about just one of the “choices”. She has been instructed on how to bottle feed, but not on how to breastfeed. She has been told of the “benefits” to bottle feeding, but not on the “benefits” to breastfeeding; in fact, she has probably absorbed the message that breastfeeding is time consuming, painful, a public embarrassment, and incompatible with having outside work or enjoyment.

If a mother hasn’t been informed of the “option” to infant formula, then she was never given a “choice” to begin with. Her “choice” to use infant formula wasn’t based on personal research – biased information from infant milk companies was supplied to her. Her personal inclination to use formula was triggered by the message that it’s preferable both socially and nutritionally. She is doing what she perceives is “best for her family” because she has been told that infant formula is better for her family.

These are messages that women take in from the media:
Breastfeeding is difficult! Bottle feeding is easy! Breastfeeding is exclusive! Bottle feeding can be shared by the whole family! Breastfeeding only bonds mother to child! Bottle feeding allows the father to bond with the baby! Only stay at home mothers have time to breastfeed! Working mothers and mothers who want a life outside the home are better off bottle feeding! Breastfeeding is painful! Bottle feeding is pain free! Breastfeeding mothers wear ugly clothing! Bottle feeding mothers are free to wear sexy clothes! Breastfeeding mothers lie in bed feeding their babies! Bottle feeding mothers have freedom of movement! Breastfeeding mothers embarrass their families and other people in public! Bottle feeding mothers don’t have to expose their bodies to the world! Breastfeeding mothers remain overweight! Bottle feeding mothers can diet and return to pre-pregnancy weight! Breastfeeding mothers have onerous and restrictive diets! Bottle feeding mothers can eat and drink whatever they want! Breastfeeding mothers have to worry about poor weight gain with their babies! Bottle feeding mothers can be assured their babies will gain plenty of weight! Breastfeeding mothers are up all night with crying, hungry babies who often have to sleep in their beds! Bottle feeding mothers get a full night’s rest, as their babies sleep peacefully in their cribs!

With these messages – all of them false – it’s no wonder that mothers will “choose” to bottle feed their babies and run screaming away from lactation consultants who urge them to breastfeed their babies.

Mothers are not given correct information. They are not given a choice, they are told what to do by a media and society that does not fully realize how the information they are basing their “choice” on has been formed and manipulated by infant formula companies that have no desire for mothers to breastfeed their babies. Parents have no idea that these companies have infiltrated hospitals and pediatric societies to the extent that the medical community owes allegiance to formula manufacturers.

Just like women “choose” traditional female roles because society makes it hard for them not to, mothers “choose” infant formula because society makes breastfeeding difficult and censors information about the superiority of breast milk so as not to “make mothers feel guilty”.

The comparison is not exact, but what I’m trying to emphasize is the fact that when we perceive we have a choice, when you delve into the factors that influence that decision, it’s weighted heavily in favour of only one of those options. When you only have one party at the polling station that has been advertized and promoted to you, and when you will be ostracized and maligned for marking the box for the opposition, very rarely will you not vote the way you have been commanded, if only for the purpose of making your life tolerably pleasant, and probably because you’ve been assured the choice is not only equal, but the best one.

That’s not choice.

I have a bone to pick.

I read an article in a mainstream parenting magazine last week (last month’s issue) by a mother who, on en-route to a beach vacation, boarded a plane with her breastpump in her carry-on luggage. The article started off positively, and I found myself applauding this mother for taking the time and expending the energy to pump milk for her daughter, rather than simply “supplementing” with artificial milk while she was away, and for ensuring that her milk supply did not suffer while on hiatus. Half way into the article, I was still on her side, as she recounted her experience pumping on the airplane (in the bathroom, unfortunately, but planes being of limited space and privacy, I would have done the same I’m sure). I chuckled along with her, as she recounted the quiet embarrassed respect of male passengers, who left her alone after she explained just exactly she was up to in the cubicle.

However, she lost my benign affection with one simple phrase. A short apology, stuck in parentheses, a small side note to her tale, really. She exclaimed, as if to ward off any criticism about her desire to continue to breastfeed: “I’m no lactivist!” and went on to explain how her daughter was no stranger to the taste of formula.

Stop. Pause. Wait a second. Hold the phone.

Now, it’s not the fact that she does indeed occasionally “supplement” with formula. No, that’s not my issue. She has her reasons I’m sure, and she clearly supports breastfeeding and is eager to continue to offer breastmilk to her daughter. There are certainly times when, in a busy mother’s life, artificial milk might be an appropriate choice.

No, I take issue with her enthusiastic breakaway from the term “lactivist”.

I have a hard time respecting any nursing mother, or any person in general who claims to support breastfeeding, who shies away from  – instead runs screaming away from – the term “lactivist”. What is a lactivist, if not someone who supports breastfeeding and seeks to normalize the practice of feeding human milk to human babies? Lactivism is simply about breaking down barriers for breastfeeding women especially in general society and in the workplace, for promoting acceptance of and support for nursing mothers both inside and outside the walls of home, and helping educate the general population about the importance of breastfeeding for babies, mothers, families and society as a whole.  If you are for the health and betterment of humankind, you should be a lactivist. If you are for helping women make educated decisions about feeding their babies, you should be a lactivist. If you are for re-engineering society towards viewing women’s bodies as not just sex objects, you should be a lactivist. If you think major corporations that provide food for infants should be held accountable for ethics violations in business and society, for providing incorrect and misleading information to families, and that they should be honest in advertising about the nutritional content of their product, you should be a lactivist.

I can just hear the complaint now: “Lactivists go beyond the bounds of civility! Their goal is to make formula feeding mothers feel guilty! They don’t account for the fact that some mothers cannot, even if they really want to, breastfeed!”

Well, true. Some activists who claim to support lactation education do indeed cross boundary lines of respect and insult mothers who can’t, or choose not to, breastfeed. They are, however, not the norm and do not represent the full spectrum of lactivism. The mother nursing her child in her living room, who simply wants to support other nursing mothers and make society aware of the consequences of a world where breastfeeding is not the norm, is hardly a raving loon who wants to see formula feeding mothers pelted with formula cans and driven out of the town Gymboree class. And to be fair, there are excesses on both sides of the perceived divide. I’ve seen more than one lactivist, upon protesting the false advertising of Big Formula or writing letters to Victoria’s Secret for hiding their nursing bras from consumers, labeled a vicious tyrant and a Breastfeeding Nazi (more on this insult in another blog post.) Or a Nipple Nazi. That’s a slightly more interesting epithet to say, at least.

As in any major movement, there is a sliding scale of how extremist the views and opinions are. That’s just reality. I don’t think all Christians are out to lynch gay people for “causing Hurricane Katrina”, and I don’t think their churches should be banned (although…..nope, that will have to wait for another blog post…). In the same vein, the general population should not infer that a person who identifies as a lactivist speaks for the entire movement. If that person insists that all usage of formula is equivalent to child abuse, that doesn’t mean it’s the stated opinion of a centralized group – let’s call it Big Lactivism.  Big Lactivism doesn’t exist, not in the same way that a central agency such as the Papacy exists, which has authority over doctrine and the money to enforce that doctrine. Lactivists have no central organizational support and, well, no money either.

You cannot discount a good idea just because some people abuse the central message.

So, when someone who claims to support breastfeeding and nursing mothers, to the extent that they subject themselves to what they perceive as an embarrassing situation such as pumping in an airplane bathroom, reinforces the myth that lactivism is an extremist force seeking to damn formula feeding mothers, I take offence. I get angry.  I inwardly seethe at a fellow breastfeeding mother helping perpetuate the idea that breastfeeding activism is something only for ranting lunatics, and has no place in such public spheres as a parenting magazine column. Especially since, because of the lactivists she seeks to distance herself from, she can safely rely on the law to support her right to that pump!

We lactivists should embrace the term, not disassociate from it. Reclaim it from the black hole of ignorance. Use our voices and pens to promote lactation education everywhere. We need to win the perception war just as much as we need to spread correct breastfeeding information.

Maybe we should hire the person who writes slogans for Big Formula to work for us instead. They seem to have a handle on how to spin public perception, eh?  Too bad there’s no money in breastmilk promotion, breastmilk being free.

Inevitably, every new mother is asked this question: “Is he/she a good baby?”

What they mean, of course, is “Does he/she sleep all night long?” Apparantly, this is the definition of a good baby. One that understands his mother’s need for sleep, one that doesn’t demand that his hunger needs be met, one that is self sufficient enough not to need warm reassurrance deep in the night hours, one that is tough enough to withstand the need for a diaper change and scoffs at the idea that Night Parenting is indeed a real and tangible thing.

When I’m asked this question, I inwardly sigh and grimace yet still find enough patience not to roll my eyes. “A good baby?” I”ll ask. Here it comes. “Yes, does he sleep all night? Or does he still wake up?” Still. Still wake up. I’ve been asked this question since he was two weeks old. I can’t condone this stereotype. I have to speak up for my poor poor son who is in danger of being labeled an inconvenience.  I surge forth. “Oh, yes, he’s a great baby! But of course he still wakes up! He’s not even six months old yet, he still needs to be comforted and fed overnight!” And the inquirer sallies forth, with an eyebrow cocked, not quite sure if I’m being naive, ignorant, argumentative or just plain pitiable.

In case you are reading, dear stranger: Yes, I’m calling you out. Yes, I’m being an instigator. No, I’m not naive or ignorant or pitable, nor even argumentative. Because you cant’ argue with the fact that babies this young need constant care. Night Parenting, just like Day Parenting, is my job, the one I signed up for when I continued with this pregnancy. Hey, I even TRIED to conceive this child! What a sucker for punishment I am!

It never fails to dishearten me, this persistant idea that babies should sleep alone in their cribs, in a dark and quiet room, from sundown to sunup, without needing attention from the parents that brought them into this world. It’s hard to believe, actually, that otherwise sane people expect small infants to spend 12 solitary hours asleep without having their hunger and thirst needs met.

Babies are not BORN knowing how to sleep, despite the quaint “sleeps like a baby” myth we hear floating around. Heck, babies in utero don’t even sleep for that many hours. Any woman who has ever been pregnant can probably recall, and retell the anguishing story of, being inconveniently awoken by insistant kicks and rolls in the middle of the night. Did they really think that suddenly their baby, birthed from the womb, would instantly recognize night from day, much less recognize the pattern of daylight savings time?

I was told, when my daughter was just three months old, that her night wakings were not necessary and that by giving her cereal in a bottle with artificial milk I could “get her” to sleep all night long. Clearly, I need to wear a Lactivist pin, because that was the last thing this breastfeeding mother wants to hear. How can a pediatrician be so clearly misguided about one of the most important aspects of a child’s life — sleep? Do they not teach sleep theory in pedi school? Well, maybe not, since they clearly don’t teach them anything about the other most important aspect of child development – food. I’m very impatient with the fact that pediatricians are disgustingly ignorant about human milk but well versed in the “nutritional information” of infant formula. But I can’t digress here, so on with my current rant.

Yes, my baby wakes up in the night to eat. Sometimes *gasp* twice. Why? Because he’s a baby. His stomach is not even the size of my fist and needs to be filled when it’s emptied. And since I give my son optimal nutrition in the form of breastmilk – the perfect food for his growing body – which is gently and easily digested, his stomach empties long before the rooster crows. For now. It won’t always be that way. I know that, which is why I end this tale on a positive note.

He will sleep through the night. When he’s ready. Not when random stranger – yes! I’m talking to you again! listen up! – tells me that he needs to stop waking up his mother to attend to him. We feed ourselves midnight snacks when we’re peckish, so why deny our tiniest dependants that same pleasure? It’s not a privilige, it’s a right. He has the right to have his needs met. And since sleep development is in the brain, even when he’s no longer hungry overnight he might *still* wake up, until he is capable of lulling himself back to sleep. So, since I got him into this, I’ll bail his bony butt out of his misery and help him fall back to sleep, while guiding him gently on how to do it himself. (Read: not scream himself to sleep. That rant will come later too, if you’re interested.)

So, let me introduce you to a “bad baby”. His name is Leonidas, but I call him Leo and my sweet little lion. He’s a peanut of a boy, with sandy brown hair that sticks up in a tuft on top of his head. His eyes will be brown. He laughs all day long, kicks and squeals when he sees me, loves to be tickled, eats like a champ, loves his sister already, and is in general one of the sweetest babies I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

But, alas. He doesn’t sleep through the night. What a bad baby, eh? And since, after all, having a baby who sleeps all night long *is* in fact the ultimate goal of parenting, it seems that we’re both failures.

My little man is four months old, I’m so amazed at how much FASTER the time goes by when you have the second child.

He’s such a sweet boy. A real angel. Full of laughs. He’s always scanning the room for me, and he kicks and smiles when his eyes find me. I don’t think this child will ever learn to sit up, crawl or walk because he’s always on my lap, in my arms, or in the Didy wrap!

I love to watch the two of them together. Leo just has a huge smile on his face and he draws his breath in to laugh whenever he is with Morgan. He loves her already, and he’s so bright when she’s around. She plays with his hands and kisses his toes, although she does get jealous sometimes and say “No Leo, that’s mine!” and clutches me possessively.

I could not have asked for more beautiful, astonishingly precious children. Every mother says that, I know. And we all mean it.

I finished up my fifth unit for my Breastfeeding Counselour course today, which means I’m halfway done! I’d like to do a unit a month from now on, when things have settled down, so I can be done by the New Year.

When we move to Greece, I really want to get involved in the Birth Voice group, with LLL and with the other natural parenting groups that I have found through searches online and through the foreigners group that I’ve been in contact with. If I can start doing some general counselling, and become a LLL leader, then I can start to log hours for the IBCLC requirements and REALLY be on my way!

This course has been very fulfilling for me, in so many ways. Learning counselling methods has been useful in other areas of my life, in interpersonal relations with friends and family, and just in general to teach myself more patience and conciliation. If I can use what I’ve learned steadily, I think it can only impact my life in positive ways and have many long term benefits.

If anything, it will help me get out of textbook mode, and back into the methods I used when I was teaching. I really enjoyed teaching at the Universities, but teaching ESL was not a long term goal of mine! I do miss my students though! And I miss Korea a lot, where I found so many small shards of my soul.

A favourite poem by a favourite poet.

 

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs —

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

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